I’ve only recently written an article entitled Is Britain really becoming like 1930s Germany? Little did I think I would feel compelled to write so soon again on the matter, or indeed make a comparison with the actions one would expect from Russia or North Korea. And little did I think I would be doing so during the coronation of King Charles III.
A chilling violation of the right to protest
It became very clear early on Coronation Saturday that things were not right. Reports emerged that police had targeted vans belonging to #NotMyKing protesters, and that others were also targeted by police before they had even begun to protest.
Images and video of the incident quickly started circulating, with Mike Galsworthy tweeting:
Many MPs were quick to condemn the actions of the police with Nottingham East MP Nadia Whittome tweeting: “Protest is fundamental to democracy. People must have the right to oppose having an unelected head of state, or more than £100m of public funds being spent on a coronation when millions rely on food banks. These arrests should concern us all.”
Coventry South MP Zarah Sultana tweeted “It is deeply disturbing that organisers of the #NotMyKing protest in London have been arrested this morning, before the protest even began. Whatever you think of the monarchy, the right to peaceful protest is fundamental to democracy. This is a chilling violation of that right.”
Perhaps even more sinister is that the CEO of Republic, Graham Smith, who was one of 64 arrested at the Coronation, repeatedly stated that he had been in close conversation with the Met for four months prior to the event, that they knew all the details of the protest and had approved them. By behaving with such dishonesty the government and police will erode trust in their integrity and perhaps force legitimate protest groups underground.
Showcasing liberty or state censorship?
For those of us who believe in our right to free speech and protest, these actions all seem a million miles away from Security minister Tom Tugendhat’s claim that the celebrations would “showcase our liberty and our democracy”.
Indeed, on coronation day the Conservative party’s deputy chair, Lee Anderson Tweeted “Not My King? If you do not wish to live in a country that has a monarchy the solution is not to turn up with your silly boards. The solution is to emigrate.” It’s not quite as easy as that: Brexit took away our rights to live, work and retire in 27 other European states and we are now restricted to just 90-day visits.
This government certainly seems very good at removing the rights of its citizens with impunity. The Daily Mirror’s Chief Reporter Andy Lines reported hearing “ a senior police chief order his officers to arrest anyone with a megaphone for “breaching the peace.” He added: “We can de-arrest them later if we need to.” No wonder that #PoliceState was trending on Twitter during the coronation if the police are willfully arresting people knowing they won’t be able to press any charges.
And it was not just the protesters
Not all reporters were allowed to report. Rich Felgate, a documentary filmmaker, was arrested and alleged that his press pass was ripped from around his neck. If this happened in Russia or North Korea, Parliament would be up in arms.
Arrests were not restricted to protests at the Coronation. The night before the police had arrested members of the City of Westminster’s Night Safety team, volunteers who, amongst other things, hand out rape alarms to women.
Just Stop Oil Tweeted about one of their supporters arrested for merely holding a sign in a crowd.
Upon his release CEO of Republic Smith tweeted: “I’m now out of the police station. Still waiting for my colleagues. Make no mistake. There is no longer a right to peaceful protest in the UK. I have been told many times the monarch is there to defend our freedoms. Now our freedoms are under attack in his name.”
In a later interview with Sky News, Graham went on to say “It leaves us as a country without the #RightToProtest, only the freedom to protest if we are allowed to do so by senior police officers and politicians. So it is a serious moment for our democracy”
My point is this: when the government gets to choose which types of protest are allowed, we are in 1930s Germany territory.
What the United Nations say
Is it being melodramatic to compare our government’s new laws and the subsequent police action to those of Russia or North Korea? The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, recently warned:
“This new law imposes serious and undue restrictions on these rights that are neither necessary nor proportionate to achieve a legitimate purpose as defined under international law. This law is wholly unnecessary as UK police already have the powers to act against violent and disruptive demonstrations.”
He added: “It is especially worrying that the law expands the powers of the police to stop and search individuals, including without suspicion, defines some of the new criminal offences in a vague and overly broad manner and imposes unnecessary and disproportionate criminal sanctions on people organizing or taking part in peaceful protests.”
Imagine once being one of the most respected nations in the world for democracy, law and order and now the United Nations are posting public statements like those above.
Where next – the European Court of Human Rights?
Many Conservatives have expressed a wish to leave the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). You wonder why they are so against it when “The idea for the creation of the ECHR arose in the 1940s during WWII to ensure that governments would never again be allowed to dehumanise and abuse people’s rights with impunity”. Churchill was an avid supporter; why not the Conservative Party?
Why would you wish to strip your own citizens of these human rights?
- Article 1: Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion
- Article 2: the right to life
- Article 3: the prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment
- Article 4: the prohibition of slavery and forced labour
- Article 5: the right to liberty and security
- Article 6: the right to a fair trial
- Article 7: the prohibition of retrospective criminal penalties
- Article 8: the right to private and family life
- Article 9: the freedom of thought, conscience and religion
- Article 10: the freedom of expression
- Article 11: the freedom of assembly and association
- Article 12: the right to marry
- Article 13: the right to an effective national remedy for breach of these rights
- Article 14: the prohibition of discrimination in the protection of these rights
Does anyone believe that our government really believes in law and order when so many of them have now broken the law or the ministerial code whilst in office?
In my view, we now need to put pressure on the Labour Party and others to reinstate our right to protest and for it to be forever protected. Otherwise, how can the UK call itself a democracy if the police and senior politicians get to choose who can and can’t have a voice?